Tuesday, August 29, 2017

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Hidden Gem Nonfiction Books

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted at The Broke and the Bookish each week. The topic this week is Top Ten Hidden Gems in your chosen genre. 2017 is my year of nonfiction books, so I'm looking for hidden gems in nonfiction. Hidden gems are tricky, because it could just be I didn't happen to hear of it before - maybe it is well known by other people! I'm going to pick books that I had very little expectation or notice of and then was completely impressed once I read it. 

 The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom
Akin to Anne Frank, ten Boom tells the story of hiding Jews in their home in Holland during WW2. A story of quiet courage, I was surprised to never have heard of it before listening to it last year.

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan
Crazy story of a reporter whose brain turned on her and her amazing recovery. The fact that the infection was discovered and she wasn't left to languish in a mental hospital is due to her parents diligence. Even how she reconstructed her month after the fact is impressive.

Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled off the Most Audacious Rescue in History by Antonio Mendez
Intelligence gathering and counter intelligence is so much in the news today so this story of the freeing of the Iranian hostages in 1980 is a timely read. It is also an inside look into the CIA and how they operate in crazy times. I'm pretty sure the movie took liberties, so the book would be great background.

A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel
The cover of the book attracts most people but they stay for the writing and the story. I also went back for the sequel, She Got Up Off the Couch

The Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth About Food and Flavor by Mark Schatzker
I just read this one and reviewed it last week. If you only read one book about food, this is the one. 

Survivor: The Ultimate Game by Mark Burnett
I'm a huge Survivor fan and can remember watching the very first episode. This book is a behind the scene look at the very first season. It's not long but will take you back to all that went on the first time.

Dispatches From the Edge: A Memoir of War, Disasters and Survival by Anderson Cooper
It's been ten years since I read this but I still remember enjoying it. Cooper (I've been a fan since The Mole!) combines his own personal memoir with three or four big events he's covered. Wars in Iraq and Sarajevo, tsunami of 2006, and finally, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina are the backdrop to his own life. This is just reminding me I haven't listened to his latest book with his mother, The Rainbow Comes and Goes.

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield
Not sure if this is considered a hidden gem, but the life lessons Hadfield imparts in his memoir are inspiring. If you ever get a chance to hear him speak, I highly recommend it. He is a Canadian treasure.

I'd Like to Apologize To Every Teacher I Ever Had: My Year as a Rookie Teacher at Northeast High by Tony Danza
Maybe it is because I am a teacher and I always liked Tony Danza, but this is really every teacher's dream. Have someone come into the classroom for an extended time and see what it is really like. There was a TV series that went with this and I'm not sure which came first. We've had student teachers who have come back to the school who do apologize to their former teachers - it's very funny!

 Gretzky's Tears: Hockey, Canada and the Day Everything by Stephen Brunt
This is a little more niche as every Canadian remembers where they were when they heard that Gretzky got traded from Edmonton to LA. (I was in the car with my parents, driving home from work.) I am mostly including this book to be able to mention what a good writer Stephen Brunt is. I've also read his Searching for Bobby Orr and I have a Blue Jays book to read as well. So if you want to read a sports book, he's your guy.

Friday, August 25, 2017

BOOKS: Summer (really good) Reads

I read a few very good books this summer. Very good. All are books I'll take to school and share around with my colleagues.

My Brilliant Friend - Elena Ferrante (audiobook)
First in the Neopolitan series, I listened to the story of two young girls growing up poor in Naples in the1950s. Lila and Lenu are rather more like frenemies with their love lives and schooling rivalries. The next book, The Story of a New Name, is in print for me, so it will be interesting to see how the story changes. I liked it, not loved it, but know that many readers have become obsessed with the friendship. It was also listed on Modern Feminist books to read.

Redshirts - John Scalzi, 320 pages
What a hoot! The premise is from the old Star Trek shows, where the expendable crew member was always dressed in a red shirt. The beginning of the book, new crew members are getting leery of being chosen for an away trip in a futuristic world of space exploration because so many are killed. But never the captain or first officer. Eventually, things get weird(er) as new information develops. Some space time travel later, the book ends very cool. Fans of science fiction or meta-fiction will greatly enjoy this one.
Girl at War - Sara Novic, 336 pages
Bailey Prize for Women Longlist 2016
I heard good things about this book and it did not disappoint. Set during the Serb-Croatia war in the 1990s, but written in two time lines, Girl at War was done very well. War stories are horrible, and this is a war story. But the recentness of the war while simultaneously being a war that wasn't in the news enough made me think about wars 'over there.'
Tiny, Beautiful Things - Cheryl Strayed, 368 pages

A book of advice columns? Not my usual cuppa, but based on rave reviews and best of lists, I picked it up. Part memoir, part advice, Cheryl Strayed relates her life with bad decisions and early death of her mother to connect with her readers. It's a good book to pick at, like a short story collection as each letter and answer are powerful. It's all about living your best life, communicating with your loved ones, and not being afraid of doing scary things.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

BOOK: American Eclipse by David Baron

American Eclipse: A Nation's Epic Race to Catch the Shadow of the Moon and Win the Glory of the World by David Baron, read by Johnathan Yan (8 h 43 min)

How timely! I found this on the 'just added' of my library's audiobook collection, and was able to borrow it immediately last week. Thus, I was able to listen to it during the craziness of the most recent eclipse. 

American Eclipse investigates the hoopla surrounding the 1878 eclipse similar to this years. American scientists used the event to stake their seat at the world's science table, in particular, following Thomas Edison, James Craig Watson, and Maria Mitchell. (see previous books with Edison, and Mitchell)

Lots of interesting tangents and rivals as each scientist plans to attend the eclipse. With Mitchell, the role of women in science. Times have changed and much can be related back to Maria Mitchell and her determination. Edison still comes off as an arrogant idiot, but he did invent a lot of stuff. Watson was one I wasn't familiar with. He was looking for the planet Vulcan, believed to travel closer to the sun than Mercury and so unable to be seen. He thought he found it, but luckily died before Einstein was able to disprove the 'planet'. 

The eclipse here in PEI was only about 35%. We made a pin hole camera and were able to see the bit we could. Apparently, the next big North American full solar eclipse will be perpendicular to this one and the totality will pass through western PEI in 2024. See y'all then!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Back to School Freebie (Classics I Want to Read)

Listing the classics I've loved, and hated, last week got me thinking about what classics I still want to read. The definition of classic is always tricky. To me, it's a book from a long time ago, more than fifty, that is still considered a book that should be read. Fifty seems old, but now it's as old as me!
I started this list before I realized that Top Ten Tuesday was back. So, let's call this Classics I Wish I'd Read in School.

The Diviners by Margaret Laurence (1974)
The first book I list deviates from my own criteria! But I've enjoyed Laurence's Manawaka's cycle books and this is the most famous one. I've been saving it for the end. I wish we'd read more Canadian books while I was in school.

By the Pricking of My Thumb by Agatha Christie (1968)
All Agatha Christie books count as classics in my mind, and I picked this fourth Tommy and Tuppence book up at a yard sale a while ago. I love how the short (4) T&T series has the couple age from young to old.

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (1862)
I started this book years ago at a site that was posting a chapter a day and got along okay, but then I hit my Waterloo, which was the battle of Waterloo. Is that where that phrase comes from - reading Les Miserables and hitting the background of the battle scenes? Once I finish Les Miserables, then I can watch the movie!

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (1844)
This is supposed to be a great read, lots of adventure! It's a large one which makes it hard to pick up.

Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka (1915)
This is one of those books whose lore is entrenched in popular culture. It was a YA Sync free audiobooks this summer and is quite short. I'm looking forward to listening to it.

Rebecca by Daphne duMaurier (1938)
I really can't wait to read a duMaurier! I'm not even sure why I haven't got around to it yet, but I am determined to get to this soon. Sounds like a good fall book.

Emma (1816) or Sense and Sensibility (1811) by Jane Austen
I'd still like to try another couple Austen's having only read Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey. Plus there are movie versions to watch as well.

The Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner (1974)
Not quite fifty years old, but this is one that gets glowing reviews amongst book bloggers so it is always on my to be eventually read.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (1861)
I expect I'd rather listen to Great Expectations, but it is so long. I may just end up watching the PBS movie that I've got saved on my DVR. I haven't read any of Dickens' long epic novels.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

BOOK: The Dorito Effect by Mark Schatzker

The Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth About Food and Flavour by Mark Schatzker, (8 h 17 min)

This was a great discovery from YA Sync! A non-fiction book about food by a Canadian. Last year there was a Michael Pollen food book but I argued to it all the way through. This book on the other hand had me nodding and agreeing all the way through.

Maybe that isn't the best way to read non-fictions, the echo-chamber and all, but this was more teaching me ideas about things I had an inkling about but didn't know exactly why.

The main theme here was about flavours and how we, society, have found a way to create flavours that taste like what they are supposed to but in the process, have lost the nutrition that should be present in foods. And when the nutrition isn't there, we don't get fulfilled and eat too much.

See, I've never been a huge fan of Doritos. I find the flavour way too intense and they are one of the few chips I can resist. I'm not claiming to be a good eater, but I prefer plain chips which would have no flavourings added. Interesting. I also prefer homemade salad dressings to bought Kraft dressings, especially Caesar salad dressing. It makes sense to me now.

The discovery of how to make an imitation vanilla started because real vanilla became extremely expensive and hard to make. There is talk of gas chromatography, mass spectrometers, and other flashbacks to my Chemistry degree from University in determining the particular notes or chemicals present in the original flavour that need to be replicated. Very cool.

Some of the other examples of how we have modified foods for economic gain are chickens and tomatoes. We see now the local food movement and the rise of heritage chickens and heritage tomatoes. Chickens and tomatoes have been adjusted to reach maturity quicker and to produce larger products. So big, watery, flavourless tomatoes that are easy to transport is what we get at the grocery store. Chickens that need to have tons of spices and extras added so they are edible. Also, they are less nutritious.

The availability of strawberries year round has changed how we eat them. We can get strawberries in PEI in December now when years ago, they were only available in July. But oh! the strawberries we get in July are so many magnitudes better. They are varieties that don't travel well, are small and knobby, but just explode in your mouth.

There were many other chapters and ideas presented in here and I can't go in to all of it. (Studying animals and relating to how they eat nutritiously) This was just one of those books that made connections to things I've noticed and was able to relate with and I really enjoyed it. The best of the YA Sync this summer!

Friday, August 18, 2017

BOOK: Airborne by Kenneth Oppel

Airborn by Kenneth Oppel (10 h 46 min)   Full Cast Audio

Book One of the Airborn Series

This was a fun, rollicking adventure set in some alternate Steampunk time. Matt Cruse is a cabin boy aboard a flying airship and hears of a legend about some mysterious flying creature. There are pirates, a lost island, strange animals, and everything takes place in the air.

I haven't read a lot of Steampunk (maybe one book?) but this was good. It is certainly young adult or even childrens, but still, a fun fast-moving fantasy adventure book.

YA Sync keeps releasing the first in a series, which can be annoying. Most are generally stand alone but can be continued. There haven't been many where I would listen to another one. A few years ago, The Colours of Madeline by Jaclyn Moriarty was one that I was very impressed with, and read the second. I just ordered the third in the trilogy from Indigo.

I would read the next one in the Airborn series. As a bonus, Oppel is Canadian and is the same age as me.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

BOOK: Susanna Moodie: Roughing it in the Bush by Carol Shields and Patrick Crowe

Susanna Moodie: Roughing it in the Bush by Carol Shields and Patrick Crowe, 140 p

History done in graphic novel form is a great way to get a taste of a person or situation. Susanna Moodie is a famous Canadian settler who wrote about life as a settler in the back woods of Ontario in the early 1800s. Her sister, Catharine Parr Traill also wrote a book about pioneering. Roughing it in the Bush was actually Moodie's response to what she felt was a romanticized book by her sister.

Before she died in 2003, Carol Shields had begun collaborating with Patrick Crowe on a screenplay about Susanna Moodie. Crowe recently resurrected the writing and put it into graphic novel form, with illustrations by Selena Goulding. The book I thought I was looking for was the criticism Susanna Moodie: Vision and Voice by Shields, but I'm so glad I found this graphic novel instead.

To add to the complete female badassness of this book, Margaret Atwood writes the introduction. It was Atwood who, in 1970,  wrote a poem series to Moodie after finding and reading Roughing it in the Bush in her parents' bookshelf. There are still books being published about Moodie and Parr as the two literate women wrote a lot in their time and kept a record of what life was really like in the woods of Canada, before Canada was a country.

What a horrific time it was for Susanna Moodie as a settler! As British aristocrats, her husband and her were completely ill-equipped to clear the land and survive. Children kept coming, ridiculous winters, deaths, fires, illnesses - all took their toll.

In fact, I enjoyed the book so much, I headed to the library to find...

Sisters in Two Worlds: A Visual Biography of Susanna Moodie and Catharine Parr Trail by  by Michael Peterman, 174 pages

I thought I liked the graphic novel (and I did) but this visual biography was even better. It covers the same material as the graphic novel, but so much more. It is done as a scrapbook, with plenty of pictures of old houses, the Strickland family (Catharine Parr and Susanna's family), and includes paintings of the areas by Canadians of the day.

 A very cool extra I discovered was a relative of mine! Emilia Shairp was a neighbour of Susanna's in the bush who also appears in Roughing It in the Bush. She is a great-great- something on my mother's side. Life was not easy for the early settlers and I've seen a picture of an old Shairp family (not necessarily Emilia's) in front of a log cabin with a bunch of kids that could easily be added to this book.

The sisters became somewhat famous for their writing in their later years and got to meet more important people. Their sister Agnes who stayed in England was also quite a famous biographer - she wrote about Queen Victoria and got to attend her inauguration.

So, not only was this a great biography of Susanna and Catharine Parr, but it was also an interesting look at life in Canada before it officially became Canada. So much history and paraphernalia was included. Really, this book could be used as a history text book, full of primary and secondary sources. The topic of the sisters is superimposed on the history of Canada from the immigrants landing at Grosse Ile, the quarantine station, to the beginnings of responsible government. Beginning with why people left England, to the adjustments of the society people living in the back woods.

Informative and beautiful!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

TOP TEN TUESDAY: All About the Classics

Top Ten Tuesday for me this week is all about Classics. I picked five I loved, and five I did not. This is making me think about the classics I have not read yet. That may be next weeks list.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Maybe if I'd been made to read this one in school I wouldn't have loved it so much, but as an adult reading it for the first time, it was wonderful. Attacus Finch is a version of Gilbert Blythe.

Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery
I have loved this in every version I've looked at - print, audio, musical, television. Each time I adore a different character and I don't know if I will ever tire of Anne. And Gilbert, Matthew, and Marilla.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winnifred Watson
Not sure if this counts as a classic, but it was such a delightful little tale that it should be more read. 
I read this one the same time as Major Pettigrew Lives for a Day, and both have the same British feel.

The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
I'm not usually a fan of the classic American novel, but this one is such a crazy ride. I always feel like it could be a Dateline Crime Special from the 90s. The Leo diCaprio movie version was also very well done.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
I wish I had read this when I was much younger. Part of my appreciation of Jane Eyre is reading why other women have loved Jane. This is a book where the feminist analysis I've read greatly enhanced the experience. The most recent movie was also very good.

Least Favourite Classics

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
I like Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Ernest, but his other books have disappointed me. I've even tried Dorian Gray twice - once on paper, once audiobook, and while the idea of the book is fabulous, the execution leaves me sleepy. Part of it is the style of writing at that time and part is all his double talk.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac
First book in my life that I did not finish. All it felt like to me was a bunch of guys doing drugs and avoiding life. Pretty sure we call it an opiod crisis today, but back then it was the beat generation.

The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
Nothing here was offensive, just bored me and I couldn't even stick to the end to see what happened to silly Bilbo Baggins.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
I couldn't get past the dialect in this one.

Lord of the Flies by William Goldberg
I hated this in grade ten, and when I listened to it last year I hated it all anew. I get why it is a classic, but the basic premise of resorting to evil and atavistic nature is the one I have a problem with.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

BOOK: Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta

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